In contrast to Andy Carroll, who likely still has some way to go towards fully integrating into the Liverpool gameplan yet remains for many an automatic selection based on his potential and gargantuan transfer fee, Maxi Rodriguez is well established in Liverpool's squad. He is also well suited, based on his history in Spain and with the Argentinean national team, to the pass and move game Liverpool aspires to re-embrace. Despite this, for many he is an afterthought. If Carroll is a presumed starter, Maxi Rodriguez is presumed to be as good as gone when the summer rolls around. Not because he has shown any signs of wanting away, but instead because many don't see him as being particularly useful to the club.
Perhaps, though, his Saturday hattrick against Birmingham City will go some way towards forcing people to take a closer look at what he does bring to the squad. There may have been a number of games under Dalglish--as well as quite a few before he arrived--where Maxi has put in a solid performance only to find himself dropped soon after, but it's hard to overlook three goals sprinkled in amongst his usual conscientious tracking and comfort playing pass and move football. Admittedly, though, he has at times seemed a streaky player for Liverpool, so it will be interesting to see if he can deliver at least a couple of solid games on the bounce if his play against Birmingham City does indeed force Dalglish to keep him in the starting eleven going forward.
Still, Birmingham City was hardly his first good game of the season. In fact, according to Anfield Index, as of April 2nd his passes had created 31 scoring chances--the most "potential assists" of any Liverpool player this season. None of them had been converted, but that can hardly be a blame laid at his feet. Yet it's more than just creating chances to score when it comes to Maxi making a difference when he does get the chance, and while his teammates may have shown a certain resiliency to converting the opportunities he has provided, the team as a whole has appeared to thrive whenever he is in the lineup.
In the 22 league matches to date where he's played over half the game, the team has recorded 12 wins, 6 losses, and 4 draws--a 55% win rate. Given how many of his games came under Roy Hodgson, who only won 35% of his league matches with Liverpool, that his success rate nearly matches Kenny Dalglish's 57% since taking charge is not too shabby. By comparison, Liverpool's overall win rate for the entire season in the league only stands at 44%. Their win rate when Maxi doesn't play is a pathetic 25%.
However, despite that he seems more comfortable playing on the left than a player like Meireles does when filling in there, Maxi is hardly more likely to deliver a cross. As with Benayoun before him, almost his entire game is based around cutting in and supporting the striker(s) in and around the box--one touch passing and making himself available in the final third, with hardly a cross in sight. That style of play has certainly gone a long way towards helping the team to win at times, as against Birmingham City (right) and before that Manchester United (below and left), another strong outing for the Argentinean. Still, without an experienced fullback to overlap on the left, and with a new center forward who seems to call out for crosses, his is a style of play that does have its drawbacks at the moment, no matter how much better the team has appeared to perform with him in it.
After all, he hardly seems the ideal man to play on the left and deliver crosses to Andy Carroll--over either the short or long term. But with Kuyt and Suarez leading the line, as was the case against both Birmingham and United, he is perfectly suited to linking and interchanging with the forwards to excellent effect. His hattrick against Birmingham after a season setting up one player after another with balls played into their feet, despite the inability of those others to convert on the chances he's provided, only reinforces this, making it almost impossible now to overlook his other contributions.
Some may at times doubt him, and perhaps he can seem a streaky player who blows hot or cold, but Maxi Rodriguez has clearly been both a valuable and underrated performer for Liverpool this season. Hopefully, on the back of such a strong performance against Birmingham on Saturday and after a number of strong showings whenever he has gotten a chance under Kenny Dalglish, he'll get a few more opportunities to prove his worth in what's left of the season. Even if Liverpool does go on to get the more traditional wide left player everybody hopes for over the summer, Rodriguez has been a far stronger member of the squad than he is at times given credit for, and with the number of chances he's created for the team this season there's no reason he couldn't at the very least remain a strong, semi-regular squad option moving forward. Particularly if Liverpool can manage to nick fifth place and a European slot from Tottenham, ensuring enough matches next year that talking of a first fifteen or sixteen instead of a first eleven would make far more sense for any side hunting for silverware.
In fact, the more one looks at how he has performed for Liverpool this season, the harder it is not to think that for some he has become a convenient scapegoat in the same way that Aquilani, Insua, and Lucas were seen as convenient scapegoats when Christian Purslow swept into power last summer. While Insua may not have set the world alight at Galatasary and is in part missed because of Liverpool's chronic lack of healthy fullbacks, cutting loose a finally fit Aquilani has looked a poorer piece of business with every passing week. And at this point, the thought of where Liverpool might have ended up this season without Lucas to hold the midfield together for much of Roy Hodgson's tenure before elevating himself into player of the season territory under Dalglish is downright terrifying.
That isn't to say that Rodriguez should unequivocally be starting week in and week out--though in reality there would seem to be more to back up such a belief than to defend its counter--or that he will certainly have a role with the club come next year. It is to say that he has certainly played well enough that he shouldn't be lumped in with the likes of Christian Poulsen, Paul Konchesky, and Joe Cole as regrettable afterthoughts. At the very least he does deserve recognition for the very real contributions he has made when he has played, and it is hard to see how he doesn't deserve at least some of the credit for how much better the results have been when he is in the side.
Plus he has a boss song, which has to count for something.